Relive the classic children’s story adapted into a play, with Lightning Banjo Productions’ performance of The Velveteen Rabbit, on this weekend at The Registry Theatre in Kitchener.
The plot is based on the 1922 book by Margery Williams, which has been adapted into various films, illustrations, and even board games.
The story centres around Pamela (played in this production by Joy Soltys), who receives a toy bunny for Christmas – the titular character of the Velveteen Rabbit, played by newcomer Conner Ambler.
At first, she does not pay too much attention to the rabbit after receiving plenty of other gifts, but they soon find their way to one another, and the rabbit becomes her special toy.
This is one original spin Lightning Banjo put on their version of the play – in the original book, the protagonist was a young boy.
“I liked the idea of having the adventurous girl,” said director Amy Neufeld. “So she initiates all of the adventurous play that she does with the rabbit. It’s a big adventure – so there are pirates, they have to climb volcanoes and have to be brave adventurers. So I really wanted that fun and energetic aspect of the show to keep the audience engaged, but also specifically to have that with a young female character.”
While there were some alterations to the play performance from the novel, the group did its best to capture the magic of the tale as it was written.
“We tried to stay really true to the feel of the original story,” said Neufeld. “So it hasn’t particularly been modernized in any sense of the word. We really wanted it to be reminiscent of when people would have read this story to their kids or their grandchildren.”
In keeping with the tale, the rabbit learns what it means to be real, different from the other toys in the nursery, and he quickly becomes entranced by the idea.
“It’s kind of like Toy Story in that way, just in that these toys have an inner life that’s very connected to the child that owns them,” said Neufeld. “So he learns that when a toy is really and truly loved by a child, then that toy can become real. The Velveteen Rabbit becomes quite fascinated by this, and he and Pamela have many adventures and are there for each other.”
Tensions arise later due to Pamela falling very ill, and the bunny’s bravery is tested. It appears that all hope may be lost when the doctor recommends that everything Pamela came into contact with while she was sick is disinfected or destroyed … including the Velveteen Rabbit. But that is when the best magic happens.
“It’s more genuinely heartwarming, a less comedic show than our usual,” said Soltys, who has performed in many previous Lightning Banjo productions. “We tend to go for comedy in the past, but it’s really a welcome change to delve more into those genuine moments.”
Neufeld described elements of action and adventure within the family-friendly play. It differentiates from some productions that are entirely feel-good.
“This one does have some moments of tension,” said Neufeld. “It always works out, as all good children’s literature should, but we really travel along with the velveteen rabbit on some of his discoveries and some of his trials.”
“It’s a classic story that I think resonates through the generations,” added Solytis. “I know I grew up reading this story and just think that it’s an absolutely timeless piece. I really think we did it justice.”
Lightning Banjo has also partnered with Artshine – Arts4All, a mobile arts school that provides art classes, workshops, and art camps to people of all ages. The group will be in the lobby to host an art activity with attendees.
“They’re coming in beforehand and setting up and art activity that’s thematically related to the show in the lobby,” explained Neufeld. “We try to engage people from the moment that they get into the theatre so that theatre magic can carry them through the whole experience.”
Lightning Banjo also invites members of the audience to stay after the show to meet the actors and get their program signed.
The show will run between 45 and 50 minutes with no intermission. Performances are set for tomorrow (December 7) at 6:30 p.m., Saturday (December 8) at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and Sunday (December 9) at 2 p.m. at The Registry Theatre in Kitchener. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and children 12 and under, available online.